Over the past few years, it’s become more and more obvious that en route to becoming the most listened to genre in the world, rap music naturally became a parody of itself in order to cater to the – predominately white - masses.
While all being entertaining rappers, the likes of Kevin Gates, YG and ScHoolboy Q have played into the gangster rap caricature that has once again reached the mainstream. This is why 22-year-old South Londoner Ben Coyle-Larner (aka Loyle Carner) is so refreshing – his music is completely distanced from the stereotypes of American blockbuster rap.
In fact, the biggest draw to Yesterday’s Gone – Carner’s debut album and follow-up to 2014’s A Little Late EP – is just how personal it is. He not only raps about light everyday concerns like missing his student loan on the album’s lead single “Ain’t Nothing Changed”, wanting to bust a nut on the short skit “+44” and trying to make pancakes the way his nan makes them on the sincere “Florence”, but he’s also not afraid to tackle more challenging subjects – he raps about being prescribed Ritalin during his adolescent struggles with ADHD as well as the unfortunate passing of his stepfather, which led to him dropping out of uni in order to help provide for his family.
In addition to music, Carner has a passion for food and occasionally runs Chili Con Carner - a cooking project designed to help provide focus to kids with ADHD. Unfortunately, we aren’t offered up the kind of great food-based raps or puns that helped propel former chef and frequent Ghostface Killah impersonator Action Bronson to great heights with his early Blue Chips tapes. Instead, however, Carner gets the ball rolling with the stunning opener “The Isle of Arran” – a natural progression in sound from his earlier non-album singles, and easily one of the album’s strongest and most soulful moments. It also features the first – and possibly best - of many clever quotables on the album: “There’s nothing to believe in, believe me.”
It’s also important to note that Carner isn’t just a middle-of-the-road rapper who gets by just because he's a nice guy – on the likes of singles “Stars & Shards” and “NO CD”, his bars are fierce and his flow smoother than D’Angelo’s abs circa 2000. Still, the short skits “Swear” and “Rebel 101” do come as reminders of just how wholesome and grounded Carner is. On the former, he argues with his mum over each other’s swearing habits, and on the latter he urges his friend that “there’s more to this than just getting blazed”. His friend’s not having any of it though: “Stop trying to be the fucking good Samaritan,” comes the response.
“We just supported Nas,” boats Carner on the seven-minute album closer “Sun of Jean”. Luckily, the track isn't just seven elongated minutes of Carner tugging himself off on tape - it’s actually the complete opposite of an ego boost. He sounds shocked and grateful that he’s got this far, having had the opportunity to support some of the greats - like MF DOOM and the aforementioned Nas - along the way. As a rapper, Carner’s got a future with endless possibilities, but he doesn’t use that to disregard his past – the album finishes on its most tender moment, with a poem written and performed by his mum followed by a heartening acoustic demo that the album gets its name from.
As a result, Yesterday’s Gone is a jazz-inflected dream a world away from the bloated showbiz rap clogging up the airwaves – it’s not an exaggeration to claim that it is one the most honest, soulful and inspiring debut British rap albums since Roots Manuva’s Brand New Second Hand from 1999. So, who said that nice guys always finish last?